Conquering team conflict

Conquering team conflict

Jun 01, 2005

Does your love of veterinary medicine ever become overwhelmed by a sickening tension that hangs heavy over your practice? Do team meetings unravel into heated gripe fests full of bickering and finger pointing? Does conflict ever discolor your practice's image, hamper productivity, or keep everyone on edge?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you're not alone. Sixty percent of respondents to a survey claimed that conflict between members of their practice team was a problem, and another 28 percent said that while it wasn't currently a problem, it had been at one time. Such an overwhelming majority sends a clear message: Conflict is a serious problem that can cripple an otherwise healthy business.

"When practice teams face off, the resulting tension and conflict can pull a hospital apart," says Dr. Cecelia Soares, MS, MA, a veterinary communication specialist and consultant. Such clashes can undermine your practice's professional appearance, accelerate employee turnover, damage productivity, and make the workday seem like an eternity.

Figure: 1 What's causing the conflict?
The causes of conflict Unfortunately, conflict may be inevitable when you bring together a diverse group of people with different work habits, distinct backgrounds, and varying interpersonal skills. Strife can stem from poor communication, gossiping, deficient training, lack of accountability, or co-workers who simply don't work well together. ( for more causes of discord.)

Dr. Soares has talked to dozens of practice managers to identify issues that cause division. Common responses included:

  • team members feel insecure
  • team members feel unappreciated
  • team members don't understand or appreciate co-workers' contributions
  • doctors don't follow set policies
  • problems are allowed to linger too long without intervention.

"The fact that conflict exists isn't necessarily a problem. Conflict is inherent when you're building a high-performance team," says Kristin Arnold, president of Quality Process Consultants Inc., in Fairfax, Va. "The problem occurs when a team gets stuck in conflict."

The key to finding resolution is focusing on the root problem, not on the symptoms, she advises. For example, if there's a leader in the practice playing parent, team members may be approaching him or her for resolution instead of taking responsibility for resolving situations themselves. In this case, the leader in the middle may need to learn to facilitate discussions instead of making a decision himself or herself.

Team building to combat tension
"In another situation, you may need to focus on fixing or streamlining a particular process, so everyone has a clear role and knows what to expect," Arnold says. "Or, if there's a personality conflict, you may need to create opportunities for team members to talk about different communication styles and work preferences, so they understand each other better. You want these kinds of communication issues out in the open."